Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at places and events of interest in Bulloch County history.
On May 23, 1982, the new head coach of the GSC football team was introduced to the public: Erskine Russell.
“Erk” as he was affectionately known, had been the defensive coordinator of the “Junkyard Dawgs” of the University of Georgia’s football team from 1964-1981.
Sports Illustrated writer, Brooks Clark called Russell “the most loved sporting figure in our state.” At the very last moment, Athletic Director Bucky Wagner was informed that there was not a football to be found on the GSC campus.
Therefore, Wagner ran across the street to the Kmart and bought a football for Erk to hold onto as he was introduced. Frank Inman (a former UGA assistant football coach) had helped make sure Erk received an offer from Georgia Southern that he couldn’t refuse.
Aside from his salary of $52,500 a year, Erk could hire his own men, pick his own players, and build his own offenses and defenses from scratch. The University of Georgia football staff contributed jerseys and helmets for the team. Other schools (including Vanderbilt and Mississippi) also supplied the team with equipment.
The new team had their first practice on Sept. 28, 1982. Over 120 players showed up, including some of the University of Georgia football players Erk had coached who still hadn’t graduated. The rallying cry heard around the campus became “Work for Erk” as the team strove to become worthy of their name: the Georgia Southern Eagles.
Players used lockers at the Hanner Fieldhouse, and crossed back and forth over the drainage ditch between the fieldhouse and the field they practiced on. Erk seized on the mystical properties of the water of what he named “Beautiful Eagle Creek.”
All of a sudden, getting covered with the dark dirt from the ditch became a symbol of pride for his players and getting wet by the water became a harbinger of good luck for games to come.
Erk’s first home at GSC was a donated mobile home, and his office was the back bedroom (mirrored hot tub and all), which was parked in a campus parking lot next to the ditch.
Erk became known for shouting “GATA” at his players while they were on the field, which was his way of telling them to “get after their asses” in a nice sort of way.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.